Obama and Paterson: Painful Politics

metzlerDr. Christopher J. Metzler

The New York Times has reported that President Obama has asked New York Governor David Paterson to drop out of the 2010 Governor’s race. While not exactly denying the report, a White House official said, “There are officials in the White House that share the concerns that are widely held in New York about the very challenging political environment confronting Governor Paterson.”

Yet New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine is running into similar political headwinds with a Quinnipiac University’s poll putting Republican challenger Christopher Christie ahead by 10 points and a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll favoring Christie by five points. The White House remains unconcerned about Corzine but concerned about Paterson. Perhaps, this is a disagreement on policy.

At the risk of stating the obvious; Paterson is one of only two Black governors in the nation; Deval Patrick is the other. Thus, some will no doubt point out the supposed irony in the first Black President asking Paterson to drop out of the race. Asked on “Face the Nation” whether Obama’s decision was a racial one, and reveling in the racial optics both inside and outside of the Democratic Party, RNC Chair Michael Steele smiled goofily and said “I found that to be stunning that the White House would send word to one of only two Black governors in the country not to run for re-election.”

“That will be very interesting to see what the response from Black leadership around the country will be about the president calling the governor to step down or not run for election,” Steele quipped.

Steele, of course, was not playing the race card as Republicans never do that; they only disagree on policy. So, what is the policy disagreement here that Steele raised with his pallid attempt at sarcasm?

Of course, Governor Paterson has not helped himself with a series of maladroit decisions including: appointing a Lieutenant Governor without having the legal authority to do so, leaking information about Caroline Kennedy to the press over her failed bid to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate and replacing Clinton with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand after promising the White House that he would not do so. It is not an understatement to say that Patterson’s administration is incompetent at best and bungling at worst.          

Who could forget the rather salacious details that Paterson shared with the world about the sexual assignations that both he and his wife had outside their marriage while they were both married to each other? Paterson seemed more adept at managing peccadillo than managing the budget. Of course, Paterson is himself a beneficiary of political peccadillo as his ascension to the Governorship is because of the improper proclivities of his predecessor.

Under Governor Paterson, New York’s economic conditions have crumbled as evidenced by soaring unemployment and seemingly multitudinous job losses. So, there is reason for the citizens of New York to reject him.

However, the last time I checked (the birther issues aside) President Obama is neither a citizen nor resident of the state of New York. So, why does he have a say in who the citizens choose to lead their state? Paterson made the ultimate political transgression in Obama’s “post-racial” America; he blamed race for his declining popularity and then tried to drag Obama into the racial swamp with him.

In an interview with blogger Gerson Borrero, Paterson said, “Part of what I feel is that one very successful minority is permissible, but when you see too many success stories, then some people get nervous.” He went on to say, “I submit that the same kind of treatment that Deval Patrick is receiving right now in Massachusetts, and I’m receiving, the way in which the New York State Senate was written about, calling them a bunch of people with thick necks,” He concluded “that we’re not in the post-racial period. And the reality is that the next victim on the list — and you see it coming — is President Barack Obama.”

Did Paterson not get the message that President Obama will not engage in any discussion about the racial optics surrounding his Presidency. He believes that while race may be in the backdrop of America; his Presidency does not stand in front of that backdrop. Let’s be clear, the critique of Paterson has nothing to do with race; it has to do with his unmitigated incompetence. In fact, prior to his decline in the polls, Paterson in an interview with The Wall Street Journal said, “I don’t think this country tolerates open racial codes as it has in the past, which is a real demonstration of improvement not just in race relations but just in the decorum of political campaigns.”

So,  in addition to his political blunders, Paterson has angered a White House for whom race, not Social Security is the third rail. The President is betting that Blacks will understand that he cannot engage in any substantive discussion of race lest his presidency be defined by the reality of his race. He is also betting that Whites will reward him for not discussing race by reelecting him.

Of course, this is a political decision but do we expect a politician to make non-political decisions? That would be like expecting a doctor to make a medical decision to treat illness and then complain that his decision was medical.

 So Governor Paterson, have you asked Rev. Wright, Van Jones and Kanye West what the view is like from under the bus?

Christopher J. Metzler is the author of The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a ‘post-racial’ America and an associate dean at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies.

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One response to “Obama and Paterson: Painful Politics

  1. It is clear that in this new millennium that we are seeing more African Americans in leadership positions. There are arguably more government leaders at all levels who are black so what does that say? First, to my mind at least, it shows that we have competent and highly qualified candidates of color who have tossed their hats into the political arena. Now having said this we must also be mindful that they will get the same scrutiny if not more than white candidates. What is happening to Mr. Patterson in New York it seems to me is to a large extent based upon his decision making. Does race play a role? To say that race doesn’t matter would be naive but I don’t think that is the over riding factor in his slow demise as a politician. I just have to believe that competence trumps race! The health care debate that rages on is not a black or white issue. Are some of these “tea party” events cloaked in race? Yes! But the overwhelming concern of health is that it is an American issue, not a color issue. As we achieve more and break down barriers we simply have to be more mindful of what lies ahead. And what lies ahead will be the public and sometimes painful critique of our work. To paraphrase a popular quote, “sometimes it gets awfully hot in the kitchen”.

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